Garden Grove

Getting to the heart of homeless issues

OFFICER BRIAN HATFIELD of the Garden Grove Police Department speaking on homelessness Wednesday (Orange County Tribune photo).

By Jim Tortolano

You’re sitting in your car on the freeway offramp and up walks a person – presumably homeless – looking desperate and needy and hoping for a donation. Do you roll down the window and hand over a fiver, or just wait for the light to change?

And which of those courses is helping or hurting efforts to address the burgeoning problem of homelessness in Orange County and elsewhere?

Answers to that and other questions related to the issue were offered by Master Officer Brian Hatfield of the Garden Grove Police Department at a special presentation Wednesday night at the Courtyard Center on Main Street.

STEPHANIE KLOPFENSTEIN, council member from District 5, presided over the homelessness forum (OC Tribune photo).

The forum was sponsored by the Garden Grove Neighborhood Association and the Downtown Business Association. A crowd of about 100 people was in attendance, including city staff and elected officials. Emceeing the event was Stephanie Klopfenstein, council member from Garden Grove’s District 5.

Hatfield originated and heads up the GGPD’s five-member Special Resources Team, devoted to addressing problems associated with the homeless and the mentally ill. He told the crowd “I didn’t take this job because my boss told me to.” His own experiences with mental illness in his family made him more sensitive to the issue and certain personal mishaps left him “broken.” But when he volunteered to help on a project to help the homeless, he got a new perspective on the issue. Instead of simply arresting transients for trespassing, he decided a better approach would be to connect the needy with programs to get them off the streets.

Hatfield and his team tackled homeless encampments from West Garden Grove to Gilbert Street and Chapman Avenue and the officer described the challenges and successes they encountered.

Anticipating inquiries from the audience, he answered a fistful of frequently-asked questions, which included:

  • Why don’t police arrest those asking for money at freeway offramps? “If the police see them, we can issue a citation,” he said. But added that most often they are unlikely to be prosecuted, or the charges will likely be dismissed.”
  • Why are the homeless allowed to camp on public and private property? “I cannot make an arrest for trespassing” on private property if the landowner is not willing to press charges. On public land, the issue is the intended use of the property.
  • Should you give money to the homeless? “You’d be shocked how much money they make. I’m not saying they making millions, but you’d be shocked at how much they make.” Donations, he said, are the key to whether the homeless congregate in a certain area. “If you hand out the money, people stay.” A better approach, he said, is to help to support the social services which can help them find permanent housing.

Also present and speaking was Brad Fieldhouse, executive director of CityNet, a non-profit organization working with the homeless, in partnership with several cities including Garden Grove, Westminster and Stanton.

He praised Hatfield’s presentation and approach, calling it “best practice.” He also did a rough characterization of the prospects for the homeless. “About 10 percent have fallen on hard times, many of them victims of domestic violence,” he said. Those are the people most receptive to assistance.

At the other end of the spectrum are what he called “service-resistant” people, who don’t want help. “You could offer than an ocean-front condo in Corona del Mar, and they’d said, ‘no, thanks, I’m good’.”

In the middle are the remaining 80 percent who are on what Fieldhouse calls “the slippery slope.” Which end of the spectrum they fall into depends in part, he said, on how long they remain homeless.

Although Hatfield got a big round of applause after his presentation, he returned the accolade. “I thank you for being here,” he said. “It says two things. One, there’s an interest, and you’re a community who cares. Two: I appreciate this, because all the efforts I do in the field, all the times I respond to citizen complaints, it shows me that you all understand that the police department is taking care of issues that affect you.”


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